Since I said something yesterday about James Agee, and since there’s something in the works for closer to when the book comes out where I’ll be sharing some corner of a bar or bookstore with someone also reading and writing about him – well, since that’s been happening I thought I’d point you to something she’s written. It starts like this:

It is that clarity of mystery, that precision of blank—gesturing to certain immensities—that astounds me about James Agee’s peculiar use of colons. The epigraph to that American modernist’s “Description of Elysium” captured my attention as the sun went down on this past National Punctuation Day:

There: far, friends: ours: dear dominion:

From Ashley Makar’s “This is All One Colon,” Killing the Buddha, November 27, 2009

This, then, is how Leviticus begins and how it ends: Die now, or die later….The clearing where we stand is hemmed in on every side by darkness and foreboding. But: It’s still a clearing. It’s all we have. What do we do then–what can we do–on the only space that remains? We know what’s come before. We suspect what will come after. How do we now behave?
—  Michael Lesy, Killing the Buddha
Andrew W.K.: Party of One

Andrew sits

in the gloaming

nursing a scotch like


The wonderful Briallen Hopper recently published an essay called White People Problems in Killing the Buddha. Ms. Hopper’s piece was written in response to a column by Andrew W.K. Mr. W.K. has since published another column responding to Ms. Hopper.

As I read Mr. W.K.’s latest, I had many of what I call thoughtforms. I have never discussed this before: I have a rare psycholinguistic condition called verbesthesia. I can sometimes feel and see in three dimensions the emotional and/or physical states of a writer while reading their words. Mr. W.K, that letter wasn’t written by a “reader.” You haven’t felt so alive since ever, and were looking for an excuse to prolong the debate. The challenge! The engagement! The sheer briskness of it all!

After publishing the second column, your elation led to a palpable sense of grief. You found yourself alone, sitting quietly in a wing chair and not partying at all. The ache hovered right under your collarbone.

The poem above emerged from that psychoplastic space.

Going Viral

In 2014 I wrote the most-read articles at not one but TWO of my favorite publications: the Los Angeles Review of Books and Killing the Buddha!

The essays are about cancer and racism, respectively. Or, to put a more positive spin on them: one is about the consolations of reading and the magic of female friendship, and the other is about the earthshaking power of black voices for justice, in the 1960s and today.

I’m so grateful to have gotten to work with such wise and brilliant editors. So astonished by the social media superstars who shared my writing far and wide. And so glad to have written these love-letters to the people, books, and movies that give my life meaning. 

Subject to grandiose hopes, to occasional feelings of loss, abandonment, we seem to have needed to feel our true home had once been Paradise. So we told ourselves we were the children of perfection, born in beauty–and, as what could have been a self-fulfilling prophecy, it had promise. We gave ourselves a bloodline touched by angels, the gift of everything, there and ready for us before we could ask.
—  A.L. Kennedy, Killing the Buddha
For not giving my week a structure besides school
and its poorly hidden rehearsal for work.

For letting me learn to fidget in an audience
and walk out on hearing nothing of use;

For teaching me to judge singers by their notes and not their thoughts,
for seeing next to nothing in stained glass.

For not showing me how to navigate a congregation of handshakes
without sweating and breathing fast.

For failing to bestow on me my birthright,
a tradition to reject.
—  Indictment of the Parents Who Didn’t Take Me to Church, by J.D. Smith, at Killing the Buddha

“The lack of God in Unitarianism was its saving grace for me. Sermons involve spirituality, relationships, nature, communication, activism, politics, morality, and other non-deific subjects. But to others, the cognitive dissonance of a religion with no God is just too much. One Sunday when I was about twelve I brought my friend Jackie to church with me. This was my big chance. Jackie, who came from a fairly strict Christian home, would understand that I wasn’t so different from her, that I went to church, that my parents and I stood for something. But, as I had never been to a traditional church or Sunday school, I had no idea how strange and offensive my Unitarian experience would be to her. Maybe it was because we watched half of the movie New Jack City that day (admittedly, a dubious call for any gathering of children), maybe it was the kid who talked incessantly about war and video games, or maybe it was the sludgy hot chocolate, but suffice it to say that Jackie was appalled. Wide-eyed, her hand over her mouth in constant shock, she quietly took in everything. I can only imagine what she told her mother afterward, but I had some idea what her mother must have said back.

The next day at school, someone asked me what my favorite number was. I said 17, because it was, and because I was too naïve to see where this was going. It took me at least a day to notice the 666 scrawled on the side of my desk. A couple kids asked if I worshipped Satan. Even though I understood the power of rumors in the sixth grade, I just laughed. No one could possibly believe that.”


Softrocktober: America - Tin Man

This is where my Softrocktober handle comes from: Tin Man. I think I might be the only person in the world with a Softrocktober handle. But sometimes we have to do things because they are hard.

The entire first stanza of this song is a total mess, lyrically. Who cares! The chorus is pure genius.

Oz never did give nothin’ to the tin man.

That he didn’t, didn’t already have.

OK? You had the power all along. No one has to buy you a ticket or invite you or give you magic shoes.

In terms of Softrocktober synchronicity, the magnificent Darcey Steinke just came out with a book called…Sister Golden Hair. That’s right, it’s named after an America song. You can read an essay by Darcey at Killing the Buddha right this minute and then you can go get a copy of Sister Golden Hair.

I shall be hunkering down in my Tropic reading it myself if you need me.

I stumbled across some writing today by Nathan Schneider, a writer and editor I know and admire. This particular piece, on the website Triple Canopy, is about “how God taught us planning and where we went wrong.”

Nathan’s opening lines reminded me of something I was obsessed with as I wrote Life in Year One: that is, the belief among first-century Jews that holiness emanated from the center of the world – the Temple in Jerusalem, which contained the very shoe box of God – and that the further you got away from the center, the less holy everything around you became.

PLANNING IS SOMETHING that people learned from God. The lesson might be said to have begun with the prescriptions God laid out for His earthly habitation among the Israelites: the Tabernacle that housed Him in the desert, and then the Temple that was His residence in Jerusalem. The dimensions of these structures were dictated by a divine blueprint. The Temple gave birth to a city, and from it emerged a civilization. We are descendants of this tradition, irrespective of such trivialities as whether one identifies as a “believer.”

And though the Temple identified here is a different one than the one I write about in the book – Solomon’s vs. Herod’s – God’s blueprint guided everything in either case. And this, taken alongside Nathan’s last lines about our being descendants of a tradition of planners, emphasizes another point I make in the book: There is nothing essentially different between who we are now and who we were then. That was something to be proud of in year one. Today it’s something we often forget.

Christiaan van Adrichem, The Temple of Solomon, 1584 (detail)